Transcript: John McCain And His Mother

john mccain roberta mccain

CBS News anchor Katie Couric asked Sen. John McCain about issues ranging from the situation in Myanmar to who he'd rather run against in the general election to his Mother's Day plans. Appropriately enough, McCain's 96-year-old mother, Roberta McCain, also joined the discussion. She spoke candidly about her marriage to a distinguished naval officer, their lives during WWII, her son's captivity in Vietnam and her thoughts on the "age issue" her son might face with voters.

What follows is a full transcript of the interview.

Katie Couric: Let me start with you, if I could. You eloped, I understand … in Tijuana because your family didn't fully support your marriage to Sen. McCain's father.

Roberta McCain: That's right. You know, I see now what they're … it took a long time for me to figure it out, but I was so young. And, of course, I was still in school. And, of course, they objected. And my… the only thing about them maybe. And I think she had, you know what, a sailor has a girl in every port. I think she heard that.

Couric: Hopefully that wasn't true.

John McCain: You were at the University of Southern California at the time.

Roberta McCain: Yeah, I was …

John McCain: Living in a sorority house, is that right?

Roberta McCain: Yes. Over the weekend, before my final exams in January, I took my text books to study that weekend, if you can believe that?

Couric: When you were eloping?

Roberta McCain: Yes. Carried them with me 'cause I never looked at one of them. And went back Monday morning and took those exams. So that whole week …

Couric: How'd you do?

Roberta McCain: Oh, I passed.

John McCain: Would you mention … the establishment … in Tijuana … where the marriage took place?

Roberta McCain: Oh. I'm gonna kill him. It was Caesar's bar in Tijuana.

Couric: Classy.

Roberta McCain: Yeah. In fact, it's still going. And that's where they invented Caesar salad.

Couric: Wow.

Roberta McCain: The bartender was a man named Caesar.

Couric: So you were a bit of a maverick. Is that where your son gets his streak?

Roberta McCain: I don't know. I was just young and stupid.

John McCain: Now, now.

Couric: But it all worked out.

Roberta McCain: Oh yes. Oh I never questioned one moment of that. It was the right thing. I knew that I … was terribly in love. And I knew that it would be for life, and it was.

Couric: Your dad, Sen. McCain, was a distinguished naval officer, your husband Mrs. McCain. And he was away a lot. Did that make the two of you grow very close as you were growing up?

John McCain: It really did. Particularly during World War II when he was gone almost all the time. Like … so many who served in the military in World War II. They just went until the war was over. But he came back, I think, two times or three times…

Roberta McCain: I think three. I don't remember.

John McCain: To get new submarines, [the] submarine commander would get new submarines to replace his older one. And that is the only time we saw him. And we drove across [the country] as a family. And she would stop at every historic place, and at (unintelligible) taverns, at the hermitage, at whatever place of historic interest or value.

You know, it was tough in those days driving across the country with a family by yourself. She did it with steadfastness. And … made it very interesting. And so … I think, particularly growing up in the earliest years … we became very close. As my Dad is (unintelligible), but … she kept him alive. She talked about him all the time.

Couric: He would be gone for months at a time.?

Roberta McCain: I'd say three or four. He was in submarines. And …when it needed maintenance that's actually, this is what's so wonderful about our country. When I see how many years it takes to build something or fix a bridge, they put out a new submarine every single solitary month in World War II. So you would take three or four at sea. And then that also wad be assigned a new submarine. That's why he would come back.

Couric: So he'd be gone for three or four months and the come back?

Roberta McCain: Yes. Because … they would take a new submarine. And a younger officer would take over the one that you left.

Couric: That must have been hard for you too as …

Roberta McCain: Really, I must have been oblivious. And I just always have been a very happy person. I just take things as they come. And, maybe just through stupidity. I didn't go through all the rigors that people seem to think … I don't know.

John McCain: But I think, also, isn't it true, Mother, that all of America was kind of in it together?

Roberta McCain: Yes. No question.

John McCain: …had left. And it was the war. And so it wasn't, you know … today it's kind of unique. And the Vietnam War was kind of unique in that a small number bore the greater part of the burden. And I think one other thing … and my mother can talk about it more than I can, is that her identical twin sister lived in, and still does, live in Los Angeles. And we went and stayed with her for …

Roberta McCain: Oh yes. I had no place to go. She had three children and I had three children under 10 years old and no help.

Couric: But you all lived together or stayed together …

Roberta McCain: Yes. Well, not for terribly long. What do you say? Three, four months? Six? I don't know.

Couric: That was nice to have her, though.

Roberta McCain: Oh sure. We had a marvelous time. Can I tell you one thing?

Couric: Yeah.

Roberta McCain: We were really stuck with these children. You know … there's nothing. So … we were invited to a lunch and my father heard us talking …and he said, "Well, I'll take care of the children." So that was wonderful.

And, of course, we stayed away too long. And when we drove up my father was out on the front lawn with six children. And he had the keys in his hand. And he said, "Well, I used to read those English novels about nannies and nurseries." He said, "Now I know why England is surviving."

And he never offered to take care of those children again (laughter).

Couric: I'm sure. Well, a lot of my friends who work for a living, you know, they can't wait … to get back to work when they have to …

Roberta McCain: With those children. And he had six of them. All under 10.

Couric: Wow. Let me ask you about what was Sen. McCain like as a teenager. Because I know you referred to him as a scamp.

Roberta McCain: Well, he was just one of those kids, and always kind of in and out of minor, me being mad at him, or something. He was just fun to be with.

Couric: But he got into a lot of trouble?

Roberta McCain: I don't think so. I don't seem to remember that much, well, he certainly he … I don't think he ever got in, no, he never got in any real trouble. 'Cause he wouldn't have been able to stay in school.

Couric: What did you mean by calling him a scamp?

Roberta McCain: See, he was different to this thing. Johnny really was kind of … he really was a leader. All of the boys around his age, they all … he was just a leader. And they would gang around in our house. And, well, he was, you know, he's naturally very funny, or was then.

I think he's curbed a lot of that humor. And I think some of it because they … my thing is that they criticized Senator Dole … and he was funny. And instead of that people saying he was not a (unintelligible) man. But he was funny. And he was fun to be with. So, of course, when you're around with somebody that's kind of halfway, you know, I don't know. He was just one of those natural, young, American boys … in my definition.

Couric: You had said that Sen. McCain's more like his father in that you hold grudges, but he doesn't.

Roberta McCain: Yeah, he won't hold a grudge unless …

Couric: How can you not hold a grudge … and be in Washington as long as you've been, Senator?

John McCain: Well, I think Katie, that you find out over time, and it does take time, and it's kind of a waste of time.

Roberta McCain: I'd know that.

John McCain: I had kind of a defining experience many years ago where a fellow came to my office named David Ifshin (phonetic spelling), who had been one of the leaders of the SDS …

Couric: Many of our viewers won't even recall that that was a very large anti-Vietnam War movement.

John McCain: And we sat down we talked. And he said, "I think we ought to put our differences behind us." And I did. And we worked together to try to help human rights in Vietnam. To help the Buddhist end. And to restore normal relations. Well, David, unfortunately, died at a very early age.

And I … feel so much better that David and I had a reconciliation and were able to work together. Look, I have differences with some of my colleagues in the senate. And I'm not close friends with some of them, to say the least. But I think it's important to, when you have differences, to put them aside and move on. And that was hard for me to learn. But I finally did. I think I'm a better person for that.

Couric: I know, during your son's captivity, Mrs. McCain, you had to believe in your heart that he had died to get through every day.

Roberta McCain: No … I only thought he had died the first two days.

Couric: Oh really?

Roberta McCain: The first …

Couric: How were you able to get through all those years when your son was in captivity?

Roberta McCain: Well, I do have faith. I have faith in God's will and that's all I ask for. I don't have particular things I ask for. And if I profess that I have faith then I have to do it. And it's like these … all these other things, people, they go … those things weren't very hard for me.

I just … if you can't do something about something, don't waste your time on it. And I couldn't do anything about that. I could maintain my dignity and the things that I'd always claimed that I believed in, God and my country. And I believe in the Vietnam War. And one pretty good proof about the domino theory is (unintelligible), Cambodia and Vietnam what today are communist. And they weren't before the Vietnam War started.

John McCain: Is it true, though, and Katie might be interested, and that one of the things is that with most people you didn't talk about me.

Roberta McCain: Oh no. I never said a word to anybody.

Couric: Wasn't that hard?

Roberta McCain: Well, why bring it up?

Couric: How worried were you, Senator, about your mom and dad and three young children?

John McCain: I was most worried about my family and that they didn't know what was happening to me. And I think that was harder, in some ways, on my father because he was a commander of all the U.S. forces in the Pacific. And, in 1972, he was told to bomb, order the bombing of B-52s in Hanoi. And he knew that I lived in Hanoi.

That my prison camp, one of them, was there. And, of course, he carried out ... those instructions and gave the orders without hesitation. But it's still pretty tough on a father, you know. I think, in some ways, the strain on him was ... in some ways more difficult and of greater.

Roberta McCain: Oh yeah. Every single night he prayed on his knees. And I have … a prayer book of his, an Episcopal prayer book where, you know, your hand finally will just be oil, and wear the paper out, those papers are just worn out. They were just …

John McCain: So it was tough on him. But he was a very brave person and dedicated to the Navy. And I know it's maybe a little off the subject, but it was a generation that he represented of the pre-World War II Naval officer, military officer.

They all came from the same place. Either West Point or the Naval Academy. And certainly they had their failings and flaws. But there was a certain kind of-- apolitical attitude that most of that generation had of pre World War II military officers. My mom may dispute with me, but I think Herman Wolk's book-- Winds of War is one of-- and War and Remembrance is one of those great stories where you kind of get that flavor. I recommend it very-- very highly. (Laughter) Don't you think?

Roberta McCain: Yes. When he says that the military was apolitical, it was. On an officer's (unintelligible) report they would put PI, which meant political influence, and they scorned it. And that was a mark against you. I don't ever remember politics being … discussed in my whole married life.

Couric: It's really about honor, wasn't it?

John McCain: And it … wasn't all perfect. We weren't ready for World War II, as you know. That wasn't so much the military's fault, but also it was a kind of insularity. And it was good for the military, in my view, to take and have the officer corps from, frankly, all walks of society.

From colleges and given more enlisted people. There were still some. But more enlisted people to become officers. So I think, overall, it was an improvement. But there was kind of some unique qualities about the pre World War II military officer that was very interesting and admirable.

Couric: Let's talk about politics and this campaign. As you both know, Sen. McCain's age has been brought up quite a bit, because he will be the oldest president ever elected to a first term if he wins in November. Has your mom given you some good tips on staying fit?